Moves to centralise Auckland's family and civil courts to the Auckland and Manukau District Courts have raised concerns among lawyers and community groups.
The Ministry of Justice "hub and spoke" proposal is expected to see reduced services in the Waitakere, North Shore, Pukekohe and Papakura District Courts and require staff to transfer to the hubs.
The move follows a change at the beginning of April when longer Family Court fixtures across Auckland were transferred to the Auckland Family Court.
"The proposal is supposedly done in the name of efficiency, but it really seems to be a cost-saving exercise," said Tiaria Fletcher, manager of Waitakere Anti-Violence Essential Services (Waves).
The ministry released the plan this week as a discussion document with a May 20 deadline for feedback.
"Our concern is this model would undermine the efficiency and accessibility of the court to the consumers," said Antony Mahon of the Family Court section of the Auckland District Law Society.
"If this is going to be successful, the ministry will have to retain the very competent staff we work with."
He said it was important too that transporting files - often bulky - from one court in Auckland to another must work in practice.
Mr Mahon was concerned also at the lack of "statistical information" supporting centralisation and has asked the ministry to provide it in time for submissions.
The ministry's deputy secretary for courts, Andrew Hampton, said the review of Auckland services had been going on since 2008: "The current service delivery model is not the best approach to efficiently manage the predicted future demand."
Ms Fletcher said the proposal appeared to transfer costs - especially travel expenses - to the users and the discussion document gave little evidence about how efficiency gains would be achieved.
"We are really dubious and cynical about the so-called consultation process around this because we only have two weeks to respond," she said. "We are not confident that this isn't the beginning of the dismantling of the local District Court."
Waves and Community Waitakere are organising a public meeting on Thursday to discuss the issues.
Family Court lawyers were also dismayed - worried whether they would continue to get prompt action when intervention is required.
"In the Waitakere Court we've had an efficient local service to the people of the community which is now being dismantled. Why fix what's not broken?" said Judith Surgenor of West Auckland Barristers Chambers.
Diane Ransfield, also of the chambers, said the new operating model aimed to address the problem of variable services between the courts.
"The main variable is the staff. The courts running efficiently are courts where staff have been there for a long period," she said.
"In Waitakere it's because most of the staff live locally and they want to work where they live."
Ms Ransfield said the community knowledge they had was hard to quantify and often not recognised - such as knowing the most appropriate counsellor or lawyer to refer a case to.
Mr Hampton said the transfer of hearings lasting more than a day to the Auckland court had decreased waiting times from between 18 and 35 weeks to nine weeks.
Mr Mahon welcomed the improvement, but said there seemed to be no reduction in delay for hearings of less than a day.
"In Family Court cases, often the shorter hearings are the urgent intervention hearings which stop parties becoming entrenched and requiring more court time."
* All Family Court services and case management administered from Auckland and Manukau District Courts, with court files held in those locations.
* All civil case management based at the Auckland District Court.
* Shorter fixtures and conferences remain at the court where proceedings are filed.
* Counter services and registrar services remain at all district courts.By Chris Barton Email Chris